Friday 23 August 2019

What I did today... Dr Mary McElroy Dublin Brain Bank

Ailin Quinlan

'I work for the only brain bank in Ireland. Having a local brain bank facilitates significant advanced research into brain disorders like Alzheimer's, epilepsy, motor neurone disease, Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis.

"Since it was set up in October 2008, the brain bank has received more than 40 brain donations from people all over the country. The number of donations is rising steadily as a result of increased public awareness -- a major part of my job is to make the public and the medical profession more aware of the existence of this facility.

"My job also involves organising the collection of brains when we receive a phone call to tell us one has become available. We are usually contacted by the donor's next of kin or the doctor caring for the donor or a nurse in a hospice.

"I have a whole database of people who have already given signed consent for their brains to be brought to the bank for the purpose of research.

"When I get a phone call, I check the database to ensure that a signed consent form is on file from the donor in question. I then make contact with the next of kin. This is to allow the autopsy for the removal of the brain.

"I liaise with the funeral director, the hospital clinical team and the mortuary technicians to facilitate the delivery of the deceased body from the hospital to the pathology department at Beaumont Hospital.

"I then organise the neuro-pathologist on call to slice the brain in half and remove sections for analysis. I assist the neuro-pathologist during the brain harvesting.

"Brain tissue is processed in two ways to allow maximum information to be obtained and ensures that the tissue remains in a condition in which it can be used many years down the road.

"Half the brain is cut into sections and snap-frozen at a temperature of minus 219 degrees, to preserve its lifelike state. Then it is stored at minus 74 degrees.

"The other half of the brain is immersed in a formaldehyde solution to fix and preserve the tissue permanently in as lifelike a state as possible.

"We want to encourage healthy people to participate in our donor scheme, as the brains of healthy donors are as valuable to research as those from people with neurological conditions.

"All you have to do is to make contact with us via phone call or email and we will provide the person with information leaflets, newsletters about our work and the appropriate documentation enabling you to sign your brain over to the bank.

"It is important to inform the next of kin and discuss your wishes with your family and GP. We provide counselling for potential donors -- sometimes when a potential donor rings, they are uncertain about whether they want to do it or not.

"It is a bit daunting and people don't know a lot about the process. I go through everything with them and explain what happens after death."

Mary McElroy is coordinator with the Dublin Brain Bank at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. For further information visit

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